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Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will

Jun 19, 2018

The popularity of DNA and geneology tests and apps is a big indication that people are interested to know where they came from. We all have different reasons for wanting to know; many simply want to know what genetic predispositions they may face as they age, or have children. More of us are curious because we define ourselves by our stories, our backgrounds, and the people who came before us.

As a child, I remember sitting at our dinner table and hearing stories of our grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and distant cousins from the past. Some stories were funny, others were fascinating in their unfamiliar use of language and a time so different from ours. In our family, the narrative was that we were from Russia on both sides, and that our great grandparents all came from a similar part of the world. When I heard stories of my great-grandmother coming to America with her three daughters, her husband left behind for health reasons, and living with her brother just scraping by, I have a vivid picture in my head.

And when I doubt myself or feel less than brave or strong, I think of that great-grandmother and her resilience, perseverance, courage and resourcefulness. It gives me comfort, knowing that DNA was passed on to me, and that if she could survive intense hardship and grief, so can I.

Wendy Weiner Runge shares other people's stories through film as a producer. Her recent project, RACH43L, is a Holocaust story with a tragic ending, as most are. What I wanted to know was how her family history shaped her perspective in telling the story of RACH43L, which is not her own family's story.

As often happens in these conversations, we took some twists and turns from topic to topic, and somehow found our way back to the original theme of the podcast: Our family history shapes us, and if we don't share those stories, we not only leave gaping holes in our understanding of ourselves, we lose our connection to other humans.